I must tell you, Jonathan, that I do not find a significant change, although
definite development, in my own understanding in the parables of Jesus from
the early 70s to the early 00s. I would not go back, for example, on
anything that I said about the Treasure parable and, yes, I do imagine what
we have of it as a plot summary of a far longer parable allowing for
audience interaction and debate. You may be seeing a difference here from
past to present that I do not because the major shift for me is, as I said
in an earlier post in response to Mahlon Smith, the development I see is
from an initial focus exclusively on the parables in reconstructing the
historical Jesus to a more total focus using literary criticism for the
parables of Jesus and anthropological criticism for the deeds of Jesus.
I actually do not find within my own work any claims for the superiority of
Jesus' parables over the examples used in rabbinic texts. I consider,
however, that within the overarching genre of story, parable-stories and
example-stories can be functionally different. You cannot say that parable-
stories are superior to example-stories or vice versa, but only judge how
well each type functions within its own purpose. The example-stories of the
rabbis, for example, do excellently well what they are intended to do,
namely give a narrative example for the textual exegesis to which they are
appended. If one agrees that the generic purpose of Jesus' parables was a
raising of audience consciousness about the systemic injustice of Roman
commercialization, then they can only operate within such an open
interaction. Theoretically, I suppose, one could have a written collection
of parables without any appended interpretation and they might be still
effective. I doubt it, however.
In conclusion, and in emphasis, Jesus' use of parable-stories and the
rabbis' use of example-stories were equally Jewish options, neither was
superior to the other, and each was presumably as effective as the other for
its own purpose.
>From: Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus <jkraus@...>
>Subject: [HJMatMeth] How much have your views on the parables of Jesus changed?
>Date: Thu, Mar 2, 2000, 3:19 AM
> Professor Crossan,
> It seems to me that your current view not only of the historical
> import, but also of the oral nature of the parables of Jesus has changed
> significantly from the position you took a long time ago in your
> comparative study of treasure trove folk tales and parables, _Finding is
> the First Act_. There you argued, in my mind quite persuasively (if I
> understood you correctly), that the selection and sequence of highly
> conventional, shared motifs were what distinguished Jesus' parable of the
> lost treasure from others, especially similar Jewish rabbinic parables.
> That study seemed to presume a sort of Lord/Parry theory of oral
> transmission, in which performers shared a vast treasury of themes, motifs,
> and formulaic phrases - and more or less composed their works from these
> basic units on the spot to fit a particular current situation and audience.
> Not only that, you seemed to argue that Jesus' virtuosity as a parable
> teller consisted in his unique selection and combination of these set
> components, the dramatic and unexpected sequencing of his narratives,
> intended to effect a radical transformation of his audience's ordinary way
> of looking at things.
> But when you replied to Mahlon Smith's question about the historical import
> of the parables, you seem to have adopted a different model of oral
> transmission. Namely, when you said,
>>(1) The parables of the HJ are an intensely
>>oral/interactive genre. (2) What we now have of any one is, at best, a plot
>>summary. For example, the Good Samaritan may have taken an hour to
>>tell/mime/act out. Told as now read, a sneeze would have lost that key word
>>"Samaritan." (3) The audience would have interacted to approve or
>>disapprove, accept or reject, not only at the end but even as the HJ spoke.
>>He is not simply telling a traditional tale where all are silent as long as
>>he is doing it "well."
> In your earlier work, did you imagine that the treasure parable was just a
> plot summary, that it's original telling would have taken about an hour (in
> this case a sneeze would have lost the whole parable ;-)!), and that there
> would have been a lot of intense back and forth dialogue during its telling?
> N.B.: I don't even know if you still consider this parable authentic to
> Jesus; you certainly did in _Finding is the First Act_. Indeed, you held
> it up as paradigmatic of Jesus' religious perspective.
> I don't fault you for changing your mind (if you did), but rather would
> like to know why you did. I ask because I have found your earlier book
> _Finding is the First Act_ one of the most persuasive and illuminating
> applications of a comp lit. approach and oral literary theory to NT
> literature in general, as well as to Jesus' parables in particular. Since
> to my mind, your "old wine is good," what new evidence or arguments were so
> compelling as to lead you to a different approach?
> One area however where you seemed to have remained consistent is in your
> negative aesthetic evaluation of parables that are applied to the
> explanation of a written text, rather than to an immediate, "live"
> situation - i.e., when you said:
>> (6) The major problem is the move of those parables from
>>oral interaction to scribal location. Even if the writer agrees absolutely
>>with the HJ and does not allegorize the parables in transmitting them, that
>>relocation is fatal to their generic purpose. They are necessarily doomed.
>>(7) Bereft of that oral interaction, the writers reduce them necessarily to
>>examples and eventually they will all go.
> Why must the "allegorical" application of parables to a written text,
> whether in a gospel or to Scripture in an exegetical midrash necessarily be
> "fatal to their generic purpose," some sort of "reduction?" The obvious
> counter-examples are rabbinic exegetical _meshalim_. Their generic purpose
> is both to explicate a specific scriptural verse and an existential
> situation, as David Stern has argued in _Parables in Midrash : Narrative
> and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University
> Press, 1991. Now, unless you meant above that the parables of the HJ are
> themselves a unique genre different even from other parables that use the
> same forms and motifs, how can you say that their application to or in a
> written is fatal to their "_generic_ purpose?" Fatal maybe to HJ's
> particular rhetorical intention at the time he spoke them, but not to genre
> of parables as such!
> On the contrary, it seems to me that rabbinic exegetical meshalim
> exemplify, among orally transmitted folk narratives, a "Jewish" tendency
> to apply a written text explicitly marked as such to an extra-textual
> situation, a distinctive tendency you already noted in your comparison of
> Jewish treasure trove parables to Jesus' parable in _Finding is the First
> So why not just call parables that explain texts "Jewish" in style or
> tendency, rather than "reductions" that kill the "generic purpose" of
> parables? Otherwise, it seems to imply that any parables performed
> differently than the HJ performed them are aesthetically or even
> theologically inferior. I'm sure you don't intend this.
> Yet it is possible that this treatment of Jesus' parables, as with other
> approaches that stress the HJ's uniqueness (i.e., the criterion of
> dissimilarity) unintentionally perpetuate a sort of Christian cultural
> triumphalism. Is there a way to emphasize the HJ's uniqueness (including
> the uniqueness of the oral forms of teaching he employed) without even
> unintentionally denigrating the religious or aesthetic forms from which he
> Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus
> Assistant Professor of Religion
> Wheaton College
> Norton, MA 02766
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